Most people associate Egypt with Islam today, but Christianity was actually the dominant religion between the fourth century AD and 641 AD, when Islam officially took over. St. Mark first preached Christianity in 50 AD, and Egypt was one of the first countries to adopt the still young faith.
The Egyptian branch of Christianity is called the Coptic Church. Unlike other branches of Christianity, the Coptics believe that Christ was a wholly divine being and not God made flesh. One in every ten Egyptians is a Coptic today. The Coptic Church has its own Pope, and many ceremonies are still held in the ancient Coptic language.
The Holy Family’s Journey
If you know the bible well, you’ll remember that Jesus and the Holy family fled from Bethlehem to Egypt, seeking refuge from a blood thirsty King Herod. They made an arduous 2,000 km trek by donkey over four years which took them over 30 different places in Egypt, from Al-Farma down to the Al-Muharraq monastery.
Needless to say, the Holy Family’s Journey is an extremely important event in the Coptic tradition, and they celebrate Jesus’ arrival in Egypt every year on June 1st (the 24th day of the Coptic month Bashans).]
Al-Muallaqa (Hanging) Church
Dating the al-Muallaqa church definitively has proven difficult due to its various makeovers throughout the years, but it was completed sometime between the seventh and ninth century on top of what was the Water Gate on the southern wall of the fortress of Babylon. In fact, the gate is still visible through a hole in the baptistery’s floor.
The church’s two bell towers soar to an awe-inspiring 13m at their highest peak. Beneath its hallowed vaulted ceilings, the major events of the Coptic calendar are celebrated to a spectacular effect. During the Enthronement of the Patriarch, its impressive collection of censers, chalices and crosses in gold, silver and gilt go on full display.
Church of Mar Guirguis (St George)
Not to be confused with England’s dragon-slaying hero, Mar Guirguis was an early martyr from Palestine, put to death by the Romans in the fourth century. The first church to bear his name was built some six centuries later.
The elegant circular domed church you see today stands on its fire-ravaged remains, built at the turn of the twentieth century. Inside, the church is bathed in the magnificent multicoloured glow of its striking stained glass windows.